Focus on the person

Transition social workers need to understand the plans, concerns and needs of the young people and the families they support, and work with them to make those plans real.

Challenges we face

Making it better

No social worker can function at their best in poorly-functioning systems: practitioners need, as we have seen in Right conditions, basic structures in place in order to do their job properly. As professionals, they need to ensure they are aware of the law, policies and theories which shape their work supporting young people as they prepare for adulthood. This knowledge is one of the building blocks towards practising confidently, with a firmly-held set of values dedicated to promoting the rights and independence of young people. Advocating for people at funding panels, in large meetings or in discussions with their family members depends on this confidence, so that people can be supported effectively through occasionally baffling systems.

What young people and families we spoke to said they want in a social worker:
  • kind
  • understandable
  • respectful and polite
  • patient
  • confident
  • friendly
  • experienced
  • caring
  • good listener
  • knowledgeable
  • calm
  • on time

The structures, knowledge and values which feed into a social worker’s practice must all support and inform the one-to-one interaction between the social worker and the young person with whom they are working, in what needs to be an open, human, professional interaction between two people. In this, each brings their expertise to the relationship.

We have looked in some detail in other sections at the systems in place to support young people – or sometimes unintentionally to thwart them – and the role social workers have in joining them up, or in helping young people steer a course through them. Each section, and this one in particular, also looks at the social worker getting their own practice right. Without that, a smooth transfer from children’s to adults’ services means nothing; good quality practice both prior to, and after, any transition is vital. And that depends as much as anything on the quality of the relationship between the social worker and the young person.

Top tips

  1. Get to know people early: from the Year 9 school review.
  2. Have sufficient time to build trusting relationships.
  3. Try creative and person-centred approaches.
  4. Focus on the relational, not the transactional, aspects of social work.
  5. Develop mechanisms to allow young people and their families to be more involved in planning.
  6. Look for opportunities to demonstrate that investing in time can save money.
  7. Foster ambition. Share success stories.


Crucially important in getting to know a young person, and supporting them in their plans for adulthood, is getting involved with them early enough for a relationship to develop. The statutory guidance under the Care Act requires adult social care to do certain things at certain key staging posts in a young person’s life.

Year 9 (ages 13–14)
Attend the annual school review: all partners in a child’s EHCP should attend at Year 9 to discuss plans for adulthood.
Years 10 & 11 (ages 14–16)
Adult social care/transition staff should ideally attend subsequent school reviews, so relationships can be developed and changing needs tracked. Regular meetings can help introduce topics like the Mental Capacity Act, which applies from 16 onwards.
Years 12 & 13 (ages 17–19)
Ages 19–25

A personal story

Stuart was almost 18 years old when he was referred from children’s to adults’ services as part of the transitions process. He had profound complex health and social care needs, and no verbal communication. Stuart lived with his mother and his younger brother, who had no disabilities. Children’s services reported concerns of alleged neglect of Stuart, but had not instigated any child protection proceedings. The relationship between the children’s services social worker and Stuart’s mother had completely broken down, with a lack of trust and confidence on both sides.

The children’s services social worker was strongly advocating that adult social care should take immediate action via the Court of Protection to protect Stuart from significant harm. An urgent safeguarding meeting was held, and as part of this process the chair wrote to the health professionals involved in supporting Stuart, to seek evidence of the alleged significant harm and to gather information to manage any risks. Stuart’s mother was offered a carer’s assessment; this had not been previously offered to her within children’s services.

The carer’s assessment captured 18 years of emotional distress that Stuart’s mother had experienced caring for her son, starting from the point of birth when she found out Stuart was profoundly disabled. Her marriage had ended when Stuart was very young, and she was doing the best she could in raising her two sons on her own, while working in a part-time job. The social worker recorded how Stuart’s mother ‘shed 18 years of tears’, having been properly listened to by social services for the first time.

Stuart was offered person-centred planning sessions, where it was established that he liked racing cars; that the three people who were really important to him were his mother, father and brother; and that he had a really good sense of humour. This was communicated non-verbally via Stuart’s preferred communication format. Building on the results of the person-centred planning, and the positive relationship she had formed with Stuart and his family, the adult social worker determined to do everything she could to support the family to stay together while ensuring Stuart’s safety and wellbeing.

Stuart’s care and support needs were assessed and adaptations to the property were carried out. The needs of Stuart’s mother were also assessed, to enable her to continue her caring role, enjoy a better quality of life and sustain her employment. Some of Stuart’s many health appointments were amalgamated to reduce the time that his mother needed to take off work, as her inability to manage all of his appointments had led some of the concerns of alleged neglect. The care and support provided to Stuart also assured the local authority that Stuart’s needs were being met appropriately and safely.

Because a social worker spent proper time with Stuart and his family as he made the transition to adult services, Stuart was safeguarded both from the neglect at home, but also from the risk of a heavy-handed intervention that may have separated him from those he loved most. Stuart still lives with his mother in the family home, where he continues to thrive.

Resources: guidance and tools



Preparing for adulthood: The role of social workers
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